Now and again, between big triple-A releases and quirky indie games, I like to play an easy going story driven game to relax. So when I saw the chance to review The First Tree I took it, I knew very little of it but what I did know met this criterion. I had seen a few trailers and heard a bit about it, a touching story and easy-going gameplay that would cleanse my gaming palette after quite a few ‘heavy’ games I had played recently.
Immediately as the game started I knew this was going to be an emotional one, you take control of a fox who has lost its children and is on a journey to find them. It’s very sad, I know. Narrating over the top of all this is a couple who are discussing what is happening as if it’s a dream, all happening at the same time as their conversation evolves. The two stories are intertwined, both equally sad and heartfelt. Your story as the fox is to find your children, find out what happened to them and hopefully save them in the process. The story of the couple talking, is one of love, parenthood, loss and loneliness. It unfolds at the same time as the foxes story and they run parallel through the whole game unfolding in unison. The game tackles some hard issues such as death, adolescence and reconciliation and has quite the impact through this very short title.
Gameplay wise The First Tree is very simple, short and seems to just act as a tool to drive home the two hard-hitting stories that will be unfolding through the game. As you control the fox, you run, jump and explore a few connected areas and following bright stars that guide you on your path to the finish. On the way there are collectables to find, including the aforementioned stars, they give you a rough path to follow but off the beaten path are relics to dig up and other secrets to find. The relics that you dig up are things from the other story in the game, memories that the couple will address and as you find each of these artefacts their story unfolds. It’s a strange arrangement but it does work.
You do gain more moves and some of the areas do have a slight, and I mean slight, puzzle element to them. Gameplay wise this title is very light, there is a lot of running around and a lot of listening to the story of the couple get revealed as you find the numerous relics strewn through the game. There are hidden areas and more things to find but if you’re looking for deep gameplay and massive sprawling worlds look elsewhere. A lot of the time was spent just running through areas and it did drag a little here and there, I wished a few times it would just get on with it but this was very rare and it did not detract from the overall experience. This is definitely a story-driven title in it’s truest sense, a very slow pondering game of exploration collecting and facing life’s many emotional issues.
The visuals of The First Tree are wonderful, as they are in many of these types of games and fit the title perfectly. They help convey both of the stories and a few graphical issues aside are very pleasing to look at. The characters and environments are very crisp and bright and are a delight to meander through, some of the effects are very pleasing too, like the pink sky reflecting on the snow and the lighting, which is soft and elegant.
As you ponder through to the finish, you are treated to a beautiful soundtrack. Soothing piano arrangements that ebb and flow through the highs and lows of the game. It was my favourite part of the whole experience and fitted the game perfectly. It heightened the emotional parts of the game and was always pleasing on the ears. The sound effects were also on point, the snow cracked under your paws, the waterfalls pounded on the ground and the world was filled with soothing and wonderful sounds to soak in. The voice acting from the pair in the other story was very well done and this was important as they talked a lot, constantly narrating throughout and bad voice acting would have made the whole thing drag on.
Aside from a bit of texture pop in here and there the game performed admirably. The controls were simple and easy to get to grips with and anyone could play no matter their video game experience. I had no frame dips or stutters, zero crashes or glitches. It was very well made.
I enjoyed some of what this game had to offer, it’s not a bad game in any way, it has beautiful music and was a pleasurable experience to play. I just wished there was a bit more ‘game’ to it and I was more involved in the gameplay experience. I would have liked more puzzles and tasks but maybe that’s the point of it, you are supposed to be enjoying the story unwind and maybe more gameplay elements would have detracted from that. Both stories were touching and unfolded at a nice pace, had an emotional impact and were well written and acted out very well. The ending was nice and the community-based feature at the end was also a nice touch. If you are in the market for an easy to play, emotional game that you can relax while playing for a few hours, then this is the title for you.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*